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Mike Hendricks

Mike at Night

Mike Hendricks recently retires as social science, criminal justice instructor at McCook Community College.

A winter storm for the weekend

Friday, January 13, 2017

After a pretty dry winter so far, it looks like that's about to change this weekend. The National Weather Service has issued a Winter Storm Watch for McCook, all of southwest Nebraska, northwest Kansas and South Central Nebraska for a mixture of freezing rain, sleet and snow beginning during the day on Saturday and continuing through Monday. Of all the forecasts we could have, a base of freezing rain on the roads followed by snow is the worst we could expect. Driving on all snow is difficult sometimes but not impossible but when there's a glaze of ice underneath, you have little if any control of where your vehicle is going to go, much less anyone else's.

That's always my fear of winter driving anyhow. I have confidence in my own ability to navigate ice and snow covered roads but I always worry about the other guy because once he loses control and starts sliding towards you, there's nothing either of you can do. Most of us have seen the videos of wrecks on I-80 in Nebraska and Wyoming where one wreck becomes multiple wrecks with serious injuries and deaths because people don't account for the conditions. By the time they see what's ahead of them, it's too late and they slide right into the crashed vehicles, especially semi- trucks which need a much longer distance to stop than cars and pickups do. You always believe it's not going to happen to you and when it does, there's little you can do about it.

Since this is our first Winter Storm Watch this winter season, it's important to know the difference between a watch and a warning. A watch indicates that conditions are favorable for adverse weather to take place while a warning indicates that adverse weather is currently occurring or imminent. For example, a tornado watch means that the conditions are favorable for the development of tornadoes over a particular area whereas a warning means a tornado has been spotted, either by trained observers in the field or radar operators who know that a hook echo is an indication of a tornado, either aloft or on the ground.

In winter, winter storm watches are sometimes issued when conditions are favorable for the development of wintry conditions, like the watch we're already under. And the dynamics of the storm tends to change as the actual storm itself gets closer to us. For example, yesterday afternoon when the watch was first issued, the National Weather Service was predicting 10 inches of snow or more for McCook with highs on Sunday and Monday in the upper 20's. Now they're predicting the combination of frozen precipitation mentioned earlier in this column with high temperatures in the low to mid 30's. This forecast will likely continue to be tweaked right through the storm event itself.

There's one other thing to note that leaves a burr in the saddle of many. The National Weather Service often jumps the gun and changes a Winter Storm Watch into a Winter Storm Warning before the storm is here. I understand the need to advise us of hazardous conditions as soon as possible but sometimes this is done a full twelve to eighteen hours ahead of the storm which significantly reduces the effectiveness of the warning.

I hope they don't make that mistake this time. As it stands now, this could be a significant snow storm, a significant ice storm or something in between. If enough warm air filters into the system, it could even be a mostly rain event with little or no frozen precipitation falling. That's how uncertain the forecasters are of the track and intensity of this storm just a day away from us.

Whatever happens, many people find unusual weather events to be exciting and at least the potential for this event certainly fills the bill. So enjoy whatever weather event we end up with this weekend and stay safe!

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